The Tech Industry is Changing the Healthcare Provider- Patient Relationship…For Good

At its core, healthcare is about connecting providers and patients to improve outcomes. From innovative tests and advanced imaging to electronic medical records, healthcare delivery has seen major improvements because of technology.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the power of the connection between the provider and the patient.

“We’ve come to realize health and healthcare is a continuum, and 99% of the time patients are not in contact with the healthcare organization in the traditional sense,” said Judy Murphy, chief nursing officer at IBM Healthcare. “Many chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, for example, are managed in the home. Our challenge as providers is to stay connected to patients when they’re well so we can keep them that way.”

This is a key issue facing the healthcare industry — one being explored in depth by a cross-section of experts in health, informatics and consumer trends. Using insights generated through patient-provider interactions, technology is being used to better coordinate resources, build trusted relationships and empower individuals to engage more directly in managing their own health. New mobile, social and security technologies can also increase speed and responsiveness to connect patients and providers more quickly and consistently.

In a hospital setting, Murphy says, nurses have the all-encompassing role — a 360-degree view of what’s going on with the individual’s current acute condition, but also with the individual’s health and wellness practices and any chronic condition management. The opportunity is to replicate that situational awareness and perspective through smart technology when the individual is not hospitalized.

Forging connections through technology not only enhances the level of care provided — it also increases efficiency and saves cost. For example, a regional health insurance company used this strategy to identify MRI usage patterns across 2.8 million members and developed a mobile app that helps members identify more cost-effective, standalone facilities for their treatment. The company saved $800,000 in the first year alone and plans to expand the analytics solution to other areas.

Integrating multiple technologies throughout the healthcare continuum and across multiple health systems can quickly lead to complex interoperability and governance issues, however. “Just because patient data goes into an electronic health record doesn’t mean it can be read — or trusted to be accurate — by another electronic health record,” Murphy said. “Data sharing issues need to be worked out.”

“This is where we can apply lessons learned from other industries, like retail, banking and transportation. It’s exciting to be a part of this effort at a [large technology] company like IBM because we have people with deep healthcare knowledge, deep technology knowledge and experience in other industries” to help solve these challenges.

Of all the changes in healthcare today, the most important shift may be in patient expectations around their own role and that of their healthcare provider.

“Patients are much more activated and empowered today — they’ve moved to more of a partnership position,” said Murphy. “Technology can be the facilitator of individuals’ engagement in their own health and wellness.”